Music Theory For Harmonica Players Part 13 – Playing the Changes, Root Notes

Last time we looked at the structure of the 12 bar blues, how to count along and where the changes are. Now we’re going to start playing along.

Let’s look at the diagram of the 12 bar again for reference.

We’re going to play in second position which means we’ll need a C harmonica (here’s where we discussed position playing in case you need a refresher).

I know you’ve memorised this already (seriously, you have haven’t you? I wrote a post on how to do it) but here are the notes on our C harmonica again.

To start with, we’re going to play root notes. Very simply that means whenever the band is playing a G chord we play a G note, when they’re playing a C chord we play a C note and when they’re playing a D chord we play a D note.

So the first job is to find the G notes on our harmonica. We’re spoilt for choice, we can play 2 draw, 3 blow, 6 blow or 9 blow.

Our C notes are 1 blow, 4 blow, 7 blow and 10 blow.

Our D notes are 1 draw, 4 draw, 8 draw.

Now we know the notes we are aiming for, here’s a basic blues shuffle backing track in G from youtube.

You can see that the diagram in the video looks a bit like the one I used earlier. Each bar has it’s own box and the chord name is written in each (the % meaning play the same chord you played in the preceding bar).

I’m going to play along using 2 draw for the G chords, 1 blow for the C chords and 1 draw for the D, like this.

You can hear that what I’m playing matches the music in the video. I’m following the changes and outlining the chords, just like the band. It sounds very safe, and not particularly interesting if we’re being honest. But it’s valuable to know and useful for accompaniment playing. You are always on safe ground with root notes. They work every time.

In the above example I’m just holding a note for the duration of each bar. We can make it a bit more interesting by adding some rhythm.

The example below uses a very common rhythm, often called the Charleston Rhythm.

We can also use chords. If you reference the earlier post about chords you’ll find that the G chord uses the notes G, B and D. These also happen to be the first three draw notes on our harmonica. They are in a different order but since we’re playing them all at the same time it doesn’t matter at all.

Similarly, the C chord is made up of C, E and G. These are the first three blow notes on our harmonica. Very handy.

We do run into a problem with the D chord though. That’s made up of D, F# and A. We have no practical way of playing that, so we can just revert to single notes for that chord. That might sound awkward but in practice, it works out well. Here’s how it sounds.

So there you go. You’re playing the blues! Of course, there’s a lot more to explore. Next time we’ll play along with 3rds, 5ths and 7ths too.